20 Finger Foods From Around the World (Slideshow)
June 29, 2016
Leave the utensils at home, because all you need for these 20 delicious finger foods are your 10 fingers and your appetite
Alcapurrias, Puerto Rico
Often thought of as a beach food, alcapurrias are Puerto Rican fritters made with a deep-fried batter of green bananas, plantains, taro, potato, other starchy tubers, or some combination of these ingredients. The inside generally contains spicy ground beef, but almost any meat or seafood will serve (cassava alcapurrias often use crab meat). Consumed as an appetizer or snack, alcapurrias are often found at kiosks on the street.
Baba Ghanoush, Turkey
This iconic eggplant dip is smoky, rich, creamy, and an incredibly popular dish all over the Mediterranean and Middle East. Bana ghanoush consists of baked or broiled eggplant that is then peeled and mashed. It is most often eaten with chunks of pita, which can easily be grabbed with your hands. (This is the polite way of saying, “Please don’t stick your fingers directly into the dip.”) By the way, if you’ve ever seen the film Wedding Crashers and wondered why Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson occasionally referred to each other as “baba ghanoush,” it’s because the translation from Arabic means “pampered papa” or “coy daddy” — something the two friends would absolutely call each other. Mystery solved.
These fluffy soft buns are usually steamed (though sometimes they come baked) and are stuffed with a variety of fillings (like pork, beef, or vegetables). They’re light and buoyant and can be eaten at any time of day, at or in-between meals. If you want to know how to identify bao when you see them, the buns look like barely cooked balls of dough. They taste quite doughy too, which is part of the attraction. Personally, we like char siu bao, which is stuffed with pork.
You can get both sweet and savory versions of this triangular treat, which is a folded pastry filled with cheese, meat, jam, fruit, or just about anything else you can put in a pastry. They’re often enjoyed toward the end of a meal or party, or as a light snack, and are best served during teatime, especially alongside teas of the Moroccan or Tunisian mint varieties (in those countries). Jewish cuisine also includes a kosher version of this dish.
Most of us are familiar with this toasted bruschetta dish that’s topped with garlic, tomato, basil, and drizzled with olive oil (even if many people pronounce it incorrectly), but it’s most popular in its country of origin. Ingredients are often locally sourced and the flavors depend on what part of the country you’re in. If you want to try something bold, how about making bruschetta without tomatoes?
Buffalo Wings, U.S.A
Buffalo wings are the quintessential American finger food, bar snack, or even light meal (unless you polish off 241 wings in 10 minutes). These chicken wings are deep-fried, dipped in spicy sauce (probably the messiest food in this list, but don’t even think about eating it with a knife and fork), and served everywhere from parties to bars and restaurants across the country — especially during football season (bonus points if you’re a Bills fan).
Enjoyed along the western coast of South America, but especially in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, this finger food is made with large kernels of maize that are deep-fried until they expand and turn a golden brown. Then they’re dusted with salt and enjoyed hot and crunchy. You may also know this snack by its English name, “corn nuts.” Think of them as a much tastier version of un-popped popcorn.
This Brazilian finger food is shredded chicken with cheese that is then wrapped in dough and deep-fried. What makes it special (as if the words “cheese,” “chicken,” and “deep-fried” aren’t enough already) is that each one is molded to look like a little chicken drumstick — which accounts for its name, which is Portuguese for “little thighs.” If you want the real thing, this is one of those foods you’ll just have to travel for.
This Greek favorite is simple but tasty. It consists of grape leaves boiled (to remove the bitterness) and then stuffed (the term derives originally from the Turkish dolmak, to be filled or stuffed) with rice, meat, or vegetables (or meatless options like raisins or currants) along with onion, spices, and herbs like dill, mint, or parsley. They are most often drizzled with lemon juice for added tartness. Serve these (click here for a recipe) at a picnic for a refreshing snack.
Empanadas, Latin America
Empanadas are so popular around the world that it’s hard to attach this finger food to just one country, or even just one region! Though they originated somewhere in the Iberian Peninsula (the name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning “to wrap or coat in bread”), today empanadas — though popular in the Spanish region of Galicia — are most often associated with Latin America. The snack is composed of a variety of meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, or other fillings inside a folded piece of bread or dough.
Falafel, Middle East
These are deep-fried, crunchy balls made from ground-up chickpeas or fava beans (or sometimes both). Falafel is immensely popular across the world, but particularly in the Middle East, where it can be eaten as a snack, a finger food (often dipped into yogurt or sour cream), or as a full meal with pita, salad, and toppings. For a healthier option, opt for baked falafel instead.
Gefüllte Eier, Germany
I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t nigiri more chopstick food than finger food?” Not in Japan it’s not. There it is customary to eat this variation of sushi (a small ball of rice smeared with wasabi sauce and topped with raw seafood) with your hands, tools be damned! It also happens to be a great healthy snack option. Here’s a recipe to attempt at home.
Pão de Queijo, Brazil
Maybe it’s the Olympic spirit (or because we just like the food), but we decided to give Brazil two entries on this list. Pão de queijo (“cheese bread” in Portuguese) is classic Brazilian comfort food that combines eggs, cassava flour (from the root that also produces tapioca flour), and grated cheese into a bready, spherical treat. Unlike a lot of food in America, this enormously popular snack isn’t stuffed with cheese, but instead has the ingredient mixed right into the batter. (And note that because it's made with cassava flour, it's gluten-free.) Similar foods (with different names) can be found in neighboring countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, and Paraguay, and it also made the jump across the pond to Japan with a version made with rice flour instead of tapioca.
Patatas Bravas, Spain
One of the most popular tapas dishes around, patatas bravas consists of white potatoes that are cut into small pieces or slices, deep-fried, and served with spicy tomato sauce and often allioli. If you want to avoid slick fingers, use toothpicks — but who are you trying to impress by being all fancy-like? After all, patatas bravas are a great item to serve on game day.
These deep-fried triangles of deliciousness typically have a savory filling, such as spiced chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, peas, pasta, or minced meat. They can be served at any time, be it as a snack, appetizer, or entrée. Interestingly, the appeal of samosas stretches from Southeast Asia, through the Indian subcontinent, past the Mediterranean, all the way to the Horn of Africa. While you’ll surely find many ready-made samosas that you can pop in your oven or microwave, they are tastier when made at home. If you wish to make the Indian version, you’ll also need some chutney in which to dip it.
Swedish Meatballs, Sweden
Unlike meatballs from Italy, which are smothered in red sauce, Swedish meatballs (and also Danish meatballs) are often served without a coating of gravy, and are instead simply dipped in the condiment of choice, making them an ideal finger food — or at least an ideal toothpick food. As these recipes show, the Scandinavian version uses some combination of pork, veal, and beef, and is often fried, as opposed to being baked, roasted, or cooked in a pot of tomato sauce.
Tostones, Latin America
Take green plantains, peel and slice them, and then fry them for one to two minutes on each side until golden in color. Pat off the extra oil and give them a good pounding, and your tostones are ready to eat — possibly with a little mojo, ají, or other sauce on the side for dipping. Of course, if you live almost anywhere in Latin America (or at least are familiar with the regional cuisine), you probably already knew this.
French for “windblown,” vol au vent is a hollow case of puff pastry stuffed with chicken or fish that can be served as an appetizer or small snack. Although larger servings will likely require some utensils, vol-au-vent is often served in a smaller, bite-sized finger food version. A Belgian alternative involves chicken, mushrooms, and small meatballs — but if you really want to wow your party guests, try this Louisiana seafood vol-au-vent recipe.
Watercress Tea Sandwiches, United Kingdom
No matter what inventive spin you put on afternoon tea, watercress sandwiches are always welcome. This is one of the most classic tea sandwiches, dating back to Victorian times. All you really need to fill these crustless triangles of bread is watercress and butter, but you can add hard-boiled eggs or cucumber for a little extra flavor.